“In the name of freedom, we will kill them all!”
– Optimus Prime (the protagonist in the clip above) updates the Bush Doctrine after a decade of war
Part 2 of this post is here.
I missed this over the summer, but the blu-ray just came out, and it’s a nasty, harsh, rah-rah militaristic mess. I won’t bother with the story. You already saw it and know how ridiculous it was. (Try here if you don’t.) I’ll only note that great actors like Malkovich, McDormand, Turturro, and Nemoy are complicit now in the militarization of American cinema, as is Buzz Aldrin (sooo embarrassing that was – wow). The Asian racism and gay jokes are a just as offensive (and painfully unfunny) as the black racism of the second one. And the new ‘Bay girl’ is even worse than Megan Fox, who at least had a grittiness. This one is just living plastic and skin-cream. Bay never misses a chance to promote emotionally debilitating lookism to young girls. (Even Bay’s female corpses must be hot. That must take a sexism award somewhere.)
No one captures the ups-and-downs for popular consumption of current American attitudes toward war as well as Michael Bay. Bay’s films obviously carry the moral weight and approval of the American Right. This is most clear when he guiltlessly references signature moments in US history like the collapse of the Trade Towers, the moon landing, or Challenger explosion. More leftish action directors like James Cameron or George Lucas would be relentlessly criticized were they to do that. Consider the Right’s response to Avatar and Star Wars III, compared to Transformers. But ‘America’s director,’ just like ‘America’s newsroom,’ can do this, because he is reliably nationalistic and pro-military. As Time put it, Bay has become the “CEO of Hollywood’s military-entertainment complex.”
As a result of Bay’s signature position as the filmic voice of the US populist-militarist right, no movies better capture the US emotional arc regarding the war on terror than his Transformers trilogy. As Americans have become more and more frustrated by an unwinnable war, more tolerant of brutality like torture, and less compromising, so has Bay. The films have become progressively more jingoistic, bitter, macho-sexist, and cruel. This is entertainment for the Tea-Party. In this most recent installment, there are even four battlefield-executions (!) in this Steven Spielberg (!) production based on a line of toys and aimed at young boys. But I guess that’s good stuff in the GOP primary these days.
The antagonists (the Decepticons) are nastier than usual, but the protagonists (the Autobots) are extraordinarily brutal for mainstream heroes, and Bay revels in it. The usual story about how the Decepticons are ‘evil’ is thrown in to provide a moral fig-leaf for the Autobots’ violence, but it’s a sham. Bay really wants to show us a vengeful bloodbath (the last hour), and here is where the Tea-Partier frustration and anger at the confusion over the GWoT’s course is most obvious. The film, like current the Tea Party-influenced GOP primary season, is filled with a deeply disturbing bloodlust for brutality. This is not a fun action film for the comfortable, amiable America of the 1990s (like Bay’s Armageddon). This is war carnage for a bitter America desensitized to vengeance and brutality after a decade of torture, confusion, wounded veterans, ‘ingratitude’ from Iraqis and Afghans at being ‘liberated,’ sky-rocketing costs, and global condemnation. T3 is wish-fulfillment for the people who hoo-rahed at OBL’s death: if only we could just go and kick the s— out of all them.
The Decepticons execute an Autobot made up to look like an old-man by shooting him in the back of the head. This came off so harsh, that a woman sitting next to me gasped and looked at her rather shocked boyfriend. When a Decepticon fighter crashes, the Autobots dismember the pilot alive to the jokingly-delivered line, ‘this is going to hurt.’ Holy c—! Sadism is hilarious? Kids are supposed to find that line humorous? At the end, Optimus Prime – remember, this is main good guy – kills one bad guy (Megatron), who had actually just assisted him, by hatcheting him unsuspectingly in the back of the head and them pulling out his entire brain stem, complete with arterial spray. Next the chief bad guy is dispatched after he is badly wounded and crawling on the ground begging for mercy. Nevertheless, Optimus Prime shot-guns him in the back at close range. Twice. And the camera lingers on his pained face as he’s being shot. Wow. WTH happened to Michael Bay (and Steven Spielberg)? Does Bay really expect us to endorse this kind of brutality as entertainment? Both antagonists are in morally compromised positions, yet the hero effectively executes them?! Are we supposed to cheer on the Autobots (allied with the US military in the film) when they brazenly disregard the rules of engagement (which makes liberal states’ use of force more trustworthy) and just execute people?